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I'm Part-Time, So Are You, and That's Okay

I'm Part-Time, So Are You, and That's Okay

I have a confession, one that honestly seems to be a little taboo in this photographic world of “professional versus hobbyist” that we seem to have created. My confession is this: I am a part-time photographer. But there’s a good chance you are too, and that’s okay. We’re okay.

Photography is just like other artistic pursuits in that we tend to think that people who are making a successful living doing it have “made it” and those that haven’t are somehow failing. It’s not something we always say out loud (though Facebook groups, forums, and comment sections certainly give people all sorts of bravery to say awful things that they normally might not), and it might not even be something that we consciously think, but the stigma is there all the same. The mindset is expressed in the way we often find ourselves attempting to both explain and justify our part-time status, “Well I mean this isn’t my full-time job, but I want it to be. I’m just waiting for the right time to make the move.” Or “there just aren’t a lot of gigs out there right now.” Or “I do some things here and there, some families, weddings, and senior pictures; I’ve thought about getting a studio, but don’t know if I can justify the cost.” You probably recognize these or whatever the line is that you have found yourself repeating because you feel like you need to defend yourself and how you live your life.

It’s a very American thing, this equating of “job” with “worth”, and “title” with “competency.” It’s one of the very first things we ask people when we meet them: “So, what do you do?” It’s why, when I’m asked that question, I can never give a consistent answer. “I’m a photographer,” I sometimes say. Or, “I’m the director of marketing for a company that makes clear car floor mats,” I say the other half of the time. Both are true but both are, in their own way, a source of shame for me. With my creative friends, I feel the need to defend my photography and the fact that I don’t support myself with it full time. I feel the temptation to downplay my marketing gig as something I do to “make sure the bills get paid” or “for the insurance,” when the truth is I actually really like my job and I’m very happy there. With my corporate friends, I feel the need to legitimize my work as a photographer, while simultaneously explain why, if I love it so much and feel so passionate about it, I’m not doing it full-time.

I got into photography on a whim. I don’t have some flowery bio on my website about how I was “born with a camera in my hands” and how I’ve “always had a passion for capturing the beautiful moments in life,” because those aren’t true. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos, sure. My first camera was the one on my Palm Pilot Zire 71, 640x480 pixels of glorious digital goodness! My next camera was a Lumix point-and-shoot, and eventually, I bought a Nikon N80, checked out some books about photography from the library, shot a couple of rolls, couldn’t figure out why everything was dark, put the N80 back in its box, and that was that. I didn’t touch a camera again until my freshman year of college, when a buddy asked if I wanted to take photos for the school newspaper and offered to teach me how to use a camera. I knew that journalists got to go places that normal people didn’t, and that was good enough for me. I changed my major to journalism, bought my first digital camera (a Nikon D60, it came with two lenses so I could shoot everything), and I was off to the races. I very quickly learned that I really enjoyed shooting sports in particular. I had been an athlete in high school, so this wasn’t too surprising, but I also found that I wasn’t all that bad at it.

© Andrew Richardson Photography

No, that photo isn’t perfect, but it was one of the first basketball games I ever shot with the aforementioned D60 and kit lens. I started posting my photos on a local photo forum, and starting getting critique from some more seasoned shooters that I really took to heart and used to improve my work. I won’t bore you with all the details (it’s not like this article is already painfully long or anything, right?), but over the next few years, I would continue shooting, get an internship with one of the largest papers in the country, start shooting professional sports, and get published multiple times in Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, etc. I got to shoot J.J. Watt and Johnny Manziel. I got to shoot ringside at multiple UFC pay-per-views and discover that when you sit that close, you are definitely getting some blood on you.

Pretty cool, right? It absolutely was. The pay wasn’t great and the hours were grueling, but damn, it was a cool job. Then came my senior year of school, where I was faced with some realities and some choices. I was about to graduate and had just gotten engaged and was trying to figure out if photojournalism was actually how I wanted to spend my life. It’s a lot of fun until you start thinking about how going to shoot that wildfire at 3 a.m. means you’re leaving your wife at home, or that that NFL game on Sunday will have you gone for pretty much the entire day. The editor at my newspaper had offered to extend my internship a second semester and I was also on the shortlist for a paid internship at a good paper in the Midwest, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the conversations I had had with some of the top photographers in the field about how newspapers and photojournalism specifically were on their way out. Jobs that used to be held for a lifetime were now in jeopardy, and the old process of young shooters interning, then stringing, then becoming staffers, then becoming editors, etc. was now over and there was no longer any movement and therefore, no longer any jobs. I made the decision to keep shooting, but focus on a career in marketing via some other opportunities that were also coming up at the time.

These days I'm shooting less of this.

And more of this.

I tell you all of that to make this point: I was a professional photographer. I am a professional photographer. Right now, I’m shooting more corporate events than sporting ones and I’m shooting more family portraits than editorial, but I’m still shooting, and I’m still a photographer. I’m going about it this way because that’s what I chose, not because I am a failure with a camera or as a businessman. My shoots are no longer glamorous; there are no million-dollar athletes and I no longer have the best seat in the house for all the big games. Last month, I spent eight hours on a Saturday photographing pee-wee football team photos in a humid gym. And you know what? I’m fine with that. I still feel some sort of guilt when I read articles from other photographers that explain why I’m a failure or how I’m just making excuses for not advancing my career, but for the most part, I just shake those off. This is who I am right now, and it’s because I chose it, not because I’m lazy or scared or don’t have enough passion.

So, what's your part-time? Do you have a cubicle job by day and photos whenever you have time? Do you do weddings on the side? Maybe you shoot exclusively straight iPhone shots on Instagram and you do it because you enjoy it. Whatever it is, it's you, it's good, and don't ever let anyone make you feel differently.

I'm part-time, so are you, and that’s okay.

Andrew Strother's picture

Andrew is a professional photographer based in Houston, Texas. Texas is better than all other states including Canada.

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Yup, I have a full time job that easily funds my "hobby". Get to shoot what I want, when I want and I am ok with that. Work a 4 on 4 off schedule. Some weekends I'll do concerts. Some days I'll hike and do nature everything.

It's allright, Andrew. It's allright. *pats Andrew on the back* =)

I watch this every morning and it keeps me going https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtkST5-ZFHw

I was part-time for four whole years, and I wouldn't be where I am today without it.

And you know, some days I wish I still was.

Great article. I'm an English teacher and I love doing it. I used to be a part-time photographer, and now I'm not even part-time - more of an occasional working photographer. I do bits of personal work when I have the motivation/inspiration to do so; and jobs when asked - and interested - mostly for friends. Thanks for writing an article that proudly affirms all of the above as being just fine.

Similarly, I've also come to the realization that you can shoot things just for nothing more than the justification that you enjoy it and it's fun for you. Doesn't have to be for monetary income or the prospect of future monetary income!

I couldn't agree more with this piece. Nice writeup dude.

one of my favorite quotes "entrepreneurs choose to work 80 hours a week by themselves so they don't have to work 40 for someone else"

But, there is a "but", though. Bosses are different, full time jobs are different, thus it won't be correct to put everyone in one basket. For one, I would be happy to work 60 hours for myself, rather than 40 for someone else. /I don't have such amount right now but I'm definitely working on it. PLUS - you can always outsource the post - just have to find the right people.

Great article Andrew. I did weddings from 1975 until a couple of years ago. All apart from my full time day job. I "worked" for a living from 1964 to 2010.
I did go "full time" for 6 months in weddings and other genres but then went back to work in a "real job".A source of frustration for me was that I could only be an associate member of the Australian Professional Photography body as I wasn't full time. I was not allowed to include anything about that body on business cards or brochures. I was of the opinion my work was as good of most of the wedding practioners of the time except for the usual standouts. I didn't bother therefore to join in any capacity. I actually "trained" some of their later members who did a short wedding photograpy course I devised myself.I really enjoyed my concurrent careers.I still enjoy photography and now average about 1 wedding a year mainly now helping assist someone else starting out.Our jobs should never define who we are as a person.There is a better way to know who we are.

My part time photography income used to be more than my full time job income, but that was in the film days. Now I have a job that I enjoy, which also pays too well to ever leave. And I run an online magazine, which I do 90% of the photography for. And I shoot the odd photo job here and there.

Alexander I don't see how this is true unless the part timer is seriously underbidding.

I agree with Alexander, both groups underbid, but part-timers seem to do so more.

As a part-timer I see this a little differently. I prize myself higher than a lot of full-time professionals, because I don't have to take the jobs, if it's to pricey for the client, that's okay with me, just making sure it's worth my time. But that's not good for professionals either, because let's face it, they sometimes have to take a job, if they want to pay the bills. In any way, the industry is what it is, everyone makes their choices and tries to make the most of it.

I'm a prep - cook in a restaurant full time (not even a real cook). The rest of the time I'm trying to organize shoots and make a name for myself. Its hard work, but I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. There are no easy roads - and i'm fine with that. Hard work pays off...and even if it doesn't I will enjoy the journey and not the destination. Great article <3

I sometimes miss being able to work from 9-5 and leave my work at the door. I put much more hours into my work than I ever have. I wish I could nurture my self initiated projects more but client work presides over all. It's a good problem to have though.

I never have qualms about the part time nature of my photography. I have made a living at it, but right now I am much happier with my career as a firefighter/medic than I ever could be trying to make ends meet as full time working photographer. I also find that while my time for paid work is somewhat limited which keeps me from seeking many of my ideal shoots, and instead often finding myself working small school photo shoots or kids sports team photo shoots rather that the advertising/commercial and portrait work I would ideally be doing, it is also nice to know that I don't have to take work I don't want just to pay the bills and also leaves me the freedom to work on other personal projects that could eventually turn into the paid work I am seeking.

Full time Fighter here in Cardiff South Wales and busy part time wedding photographer.. Sometimes it's hard late nights editing but I enjoy having the two different jobs

Great point of view. Some of us have more than one interest and one talent. Hard to give up one over another.

I get the message behind this. It's important. It seems to be that more photographers that participate on fstoppers and slr-lounge are part-time than full-time. That's great for the websites, as it provides a larger market. And part-time photographers often get unfairly categorized as not being professionals. But there are legitimate differences between the two. For the full-timers, it can feel lacking. Maybe there are different/better resources out there for full-time professionals, but they seem to be dying all the time. As a full-time professional, I often feel out of touch with the content and especially the commentary I read here. I don't say that to be snobbish, being full-time doesn't make me inherently better at anything than a part-time photographer, but it does probably mean I have different experiences, concerns, and interests than non-full-time photographers. I remember what it was like being a part-time professional, always fighting to be taken seriously. But that doesn't mean I understood how different being a FT photographer was, at least in my field of wedding photography. My 2 cents.

Makes total sense and I absolutely get your point. I don't know how many of my fellow writers are "full-time" shooters, but I would say the large majority of them are. I think that having a wide range of disciplines represented can help with content disconnect you described. We do tend to talk about gear, editing, and portraiture more than other subjects, so getting into some of the nitty-gritty stuff with some top-tier industry specific shooters sounds like it might add more interest for you.

"I got into photography on a whim. I don’t have some flowery bio on my website about how I was “born with a camera in my hands” and how I’ve “always had a passion for capturing the beautiful moments in life,” because those aren’t true."

THANK YOU! Thank you for that statement, and thank you for the article. I used to think I shouldn't consider myself a "real" photographer if I wasn't booking sessions every week. But I can go weeks or months without taking sessions, and I'm ok with that now, because I can't (and don't want to) do this full time.

...And I'm pretty sure that the majority of photographers with the flowery bios are *really* doing this because they have bills to pay and can use their talent to pay those bills ...not always because of their burning passion for photography.

I'm a 25% photographer and I wounldn't wanna have it any other way. The security, the ability to do some cherry picking, the absence of financial stress. I admit, I'm hungry for photography during my regular job too, but that craving makes it all the sweeter, when it's time to go shooting or editing or have a meeting with a future client.

Thanks for sharing your story Andrew that was very heart warming too. You just helped me decide to not pursue photojournalism. Granted I love telling a story which photojournalism helps tell that story but I think in other forms I can tell a story in an image which is my other love in photography... advertising photography which is a story within an image or series for a campaign. I was on the edge about a full time career in photojournalism even though I did try to get freelance work from all of my surrounding media outlets but never contacted me or responded much about me working freelance (as a part timer). But I did get hired from an out of state media outlet and got one of my shots I already shot featured on NPR's website. It's something to brag a little about but full time career with the pay most places offer (especially where I am at in the middle of nowhere). I have a stronger love in advertising world than photojournalism even though they both kinda share the same clients (media/publications, etc).

Oh I'm a part time photographer, and full time IT Call Center guy...for now, hope to change this next year or 2.

I completely agree with you... I like the save base in my life and I love to work 50h hours a week in my full time job :) But I really enjoy the feeling every week that I get out on the weekend to shoot and live my creativity !

Great article! Four years ago I quit my medical career just because my wife and I wanted to raise our kids in a very special place which was too far away from where I could practice - I became a full-time photographer overnight - I look back at that moment and how difficult is has been over the last 3 years to grow the photography business, raise a family and completely re-invent myself. Now that my photography business is in full swing and doing well - I find myself taking on consulting gigs in my medical field because the money is incomparable and I do enjoy the odd contract. At first I felt guilty and ashamed but then I realized that I was just being silly. Being a business owner is all about diversity and adapting to your market. So I just find a balance to do both, choose the work I enjoy and keep living a happy life.

Work Part-Time but make sure you are charging like you are Full-Time :)

Work costs what work costs, regardless of how often I'm working!